Unfortunately, some of the chemical additives that give plastics desirable performance properties can pose risks to the environment and human health. Below is a list of some chemicals you should look out for when you're buying toys or other household items (courtesy of Ecology Center).
Used in food packaging, toys, plastic wrap and other goods, PVC can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutations, skin disease and liver dysfunction among other health issues. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride and contains vinyl chloride: a known carcinogen. Animal studies suggest that infants and young children are more susceptible than adults to vinyl chloride induced cancer.
Phthalates like DEHP and DINP are used in the manufacture of vinyl products including (but definitely not limited to) clothing, paint, footwear and children's toys. Adding them makes plastic more flexible and more difficult to break. Different phthalates have different health implications, but Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and other variants are associated with adverse affects on human reproduction and development. Though not confirmed, phthalates are also a suspected endocrine disruptor which means they might interfere with the production or activity of hormones.
Polystyrene is used in many food containers, packaging products, CD cases, disposable cutlery and toys for children. It can irritate the nose, throat and eyes and has also been deemed a chemical "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." When workers exposed to significant amounts of polystyrene were studied, they were observed to have trouble with balance and concentration.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Used in the manufacture of plastics for water bottles and some toys , BPA has been shown to impact the reproductive systems of lab animals.
For many of the chemicals listed above, more research needs to be conducted to determine the exact nature of health impacts and the concentration of a chemical associated with harm. There's no reason to risk exposing kids you care about to these substances, however. Ecology Center recommends not buying young children plastic toys or teething products and instead turning to natural alternatives.
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